Hui Pōhaku at Ulupō Heiau

Yesterday, at 7:00 AM, Robert Silva, my friend and fellow HCC instructor, picked me up for a work day at Ulupō Heiau (pronounced “ooh-lew-PO hey-yow”). For those who might not know, a heiau is a structure built for purposes of worship, war, work, and wonder.

From listening to our hosts Kaleo and Ryan at the site, I learned more about the place. Ulupō Heiau is the largest agricultural heiau in Hawai‘i, covering an area of 140 by 180 feet and consisting of walls up to thirty feet tall, overlooking the broad expanse of Kawainui, the second largest fishpond in the islands, with 400 surface acres of water and depths of up to forty feet. The structure was built in Kailua because three hundred years ago, this ahupua‘a (pronounced “ah-who-poo-ah-ah”) was a place of great political power on O‘ahu and in the islands.

We had come to do whatever work was required of the restoration. One job is building walls for terracing the lo‘i (pronounced “low-ee”), small shallow ponds for growing kalo (pronounced “kah-low”). Walls mean rocks, and rocks must be carried from wherever rocks rest to where walls are built. I joined Hui Pōhaku (pronounced “who-ee PO-ha-kew”), a line of twenty people passing rocks of many sizes hand to hand to the site of a future wall.

The rhythm of rock swinging from hand to hand was soothing. When I dropped one unexpectedly weighty stone, the line silently paused. I lifted the rock, and we began again. The silence was accented by the trilling overhead of a White-Rumped Shama, another immigrant to the islands. Wind jostled the leaves of palms, and everywhere was the trickle and gurgle of water descending around us in the many streams from a spring beneath the heiau as if stone were the source of water.

Eric Shaffer